Anatomy of a Coin

Many innovative new coins are the result of modern minting technology. One of the ways that some Mints offer innovation is through new finishes. Here we will discuss some of the special finishes you may see on modern coins.

While most people can identify the “heads” and “tails” of a coin, as collectors, it is important to learn the various parts, or anatomy of a coin. This page offers an illuminating graphic along with fundamental definitions.

Refers to the imagery of a coin. This includes both the featured design, or the portrait itself, as well as other features like the mint mark, date, and any other inscriptions or mottos.

Refers to the outermost part of the coin, which can be smooth, reeded, or otherwise embellished.

Refers to the raised boarder that occurs between the edge and field of a coin. This part of a coin is generally raised as high as the relief of a coin to promote better stacking and to better protect the devices of the coin from wear and tear.

Refers to the date of issuance which is often inscribed onto coins.

Refers to the backdrop that the design and devices are imposed onto, otherwise, the “background” of the coin.

Is another way to refer to the inscriptions, or lettering, that appears on a coin.

Refers to the raised portions of the design, so it applies to the devices, but not the fields. Coins can have high relief and ultra-high relief. The relief is actually for practical function. Relief is essentially the difference in height between the raised portions of the design and the edge of the coin. Specimens with standard relief can be stacked on top of one another very easily, that’s the intended purpose of the relief for circulating coins.

Refers to when there is a larger difference in height between the raised portions of the design and the edge of the coin. In fact, the raised portions of the design on a high relief coin will be above the edge. This almost gives the background a bowl shaped appearance when looking down at the coin. Coins with high relief do not stack well and coins with ultra-high relief are even less stackable. However, the trade-off is that they can look absolutely stunning.

Refer to the insignia, often a letter, that reveals where a coin was minted. Not all coins bear mint marks, but many collectible coins do. For example, in the image above, the Silver Eagle bears the “W” mint mark of West Point branch of the United States Mint.

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